I had another post completed and ready to go for this evening, but then this caught my eye:
Westboro Baptist Church Plans to Protest Funerals for Orlando Shooting Victims
Aw, man, say it ain’t so! But sadly, apparently it is, in fact, ‘so’, as the story is reported in Time, USA Today, The Orlando Sentinal, Washington Post, and others too numerous to name here.
Westboro Baptist ‘Church’ members are, to my way of thinking, the scum of the earth. Even Christians deny them, saying they are not Christians, but are evil. They are known only for hatred and more hatred. Who do they hate? Everybody, it would seem. They hate anybody who was ever in the military, they hate LGBT people, they hate Jews, Catholics, Muslims, and the list goes on.
Hating every person in the universe is one thing. Acting upon that hate is something else altogether. Let it eat you from within, for it is, after all, your choice, but do not inflict it upon innocent people who, merely by luck of birth or circumstance, happen to be on your hate list! Westboro members have actively picketed funerals of soldiers killed in action, celebrity funerals, gay funerals, events, etc. You can read about them for yourselves, as it makes me nauseous and my intent here is not to discuss their filth and hate, but to talk about that which forces us to accept them in this so-called civil society. This much I know. I have LGBT friends and also family members, and I would inflict serious physical damage to anybody from Westboro who dared to show their face at a funeral of any of them.
It is interesting to note that Westboro members are banned from entering Canada as of 2008, and the UK as of 2009! Would that we could air-drop them into the middle of a Daesh encampment and ban them from re-entering the U.S.!
So why are we in the U.S. forced to accept these psychopaths disrupting the grieving of families and loved ones after every tragedy? Why? We call it the 1st Amendment. Now those of you who either know me or have followed this blog for a while know that I am a long-time scholar and supporter of the United States Constitution. As such, I fully support the 1st Amendment. However, I do not think the framers of this historic document quite had this in mind when they drafted it.
There are a number of interpretational theories regarding the Constitution. The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was a textualist who believed that the constitution should “mean the same thing in 2013 as its writers intended in 1787”. Justice Hugo Black argued that the First Amendment’s wording in reference to certain civil rights that Congress shall make no law should mean exactly that: no law, no exceptions. The problem with this line of thinking, of course, is that the world is a far different place today than it was in 1787 and nothing in the framer’s experience could have given them the slightest bit of insight into how the world would evolve, what society would become over 200+ years. A simplified example: you set bedtime for your toddler at, say, 8:00 p.m. That is the rule. But 15 years later when your toddler is 17, do you still make him/her go to bed at 8:00 because that is the rule? Probably not, unless you want a mutiny on your hands. As times change, the rules must also change. That is one part of the reason we even have Legislative and Judicial branches.
We, as humans, were given some really great gifts … original equipment, if you will. Among them are the ability to think and apply logic to a variety of situations. There are currently almost no limitations on the 1st Amendment, as the Supreme Court has been unwilling to restrict the Bill of Rights any more than is absolutely necessary. I get that, I really do. However, I also think that when the 1st Amendment rights of a small group (Westboro) deprive a much larger group (all the rest of us) of our 4th and 5th Amendment rights, or even our own 1st Amendment rights, then it is time to draw some boundaries around the 1st Amendment.
Some laws have actually been passed limiting Westboro’s access to funerals, but they are not nearly sufficient, and they cover mainly military funerals. Indiana, Illinois, Arizona and Michigan have enacted laws that ban protestors from being within 300-500 feet of a funeral, but these are misdemeanors with relatively low penalties and this is only 4 states out of 50! On a federal level, President George W. Bush signed into law the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act in May 2006 prohibiting protests within 300 feet of the entrance of any cemetery under control of the National Cemetery Administration from 60 minutes before to 60 minutes after a funeral. Penalties for violating the act are up to $100,000 in fines and up to one-year imprisonment. President Obama signed into law another that increased the time frame to 2 hours before and after. This is better, but note the phrase ‘National Cemetery Administration’. Military funerals only. While I am certainly glad that we are protecting military funerals, I do not think it is enough. The family members of those victims of the Orlando massacre last weekend deserve the same level of protection from harassment as do the family members of fallen soldiers. Period. No argument.
There have been a few legal challenges to the Westboro group’s 1st Amendment ‘rights’. On March 10, 2006, WBC picketed the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder in Westminister, Maryland. On June 5, 2006, the Snyder family sued both Westboro Church and its members for defamation, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The legal battle was long and arduous, passing through the U.S. District Court twice, the Federal Appeals Court, and eventually, in 2010 ending up in the U.S. Supreme Court. I will not bore you with details, but the ultimate ruling was an 8-1 ruling in favour of Westboro. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion stating: “What Westboro said, in the whole context of how and where it chose to say it, is entitled to ‘special protection’ under the First Amendment and that protection cannot be overcome by a jury finding that the picketing was outrageous.” Justice Samuel Alito, the lone dissenter, said Snyder wanted only to “bury his son in peace”. Instead, Alito said, the protesters “brutally attacked” Matthew Snyder to attract public attention. “Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case,” he said.
Westboro is an abomination, and I include all their members, as well as anybody who would support them in that statement. There is, however, one bright spot in the Orlando story. A group of some 200+ people launched a counter-protest, blocking the street in downtown Orlando and preventing the Westboro group from gaining access to the funeral proceedings. The counter-protest group included bikers, priests, young people, members of the LGBT community and locals carrying signs saying “God is love” and the motto the City Beautiful adopted in response to the massacre, “Orlando strong.” Yet another group, a line of “angels” clad in white sheets mounted with wings constructed from PVC pipes walked in front of the throng, saying nothing as the crowd cheered. The wings were the idea of the Orlando Shakespeare theater, which outfitted their volunteers with sheets wide enough to block view of the church members. Just past 11 a.m., the Westboro church members left and retreated toward their vehicles, and the crowd roared. A large contingent of the counter-demonstrators drew in close into a huddle and chanted, “Orlando strong! Orlando strong!”
This was a fairly long post, but when I rant, I do it up right! Anyway, the moral of this whole thing, as I see it, is that if the Supreme Court feels its hands are tied in cases like these, and if the ‘thinking and humane’ portion of society agree that Westboro is scum that must be stopped, perhaps we take a page from the book of the counter-protestors in Orlando this weekend. One couple, upon hearing of the counter protest being formed, flew from their home in Pennsylvania to be a part of stopping the Westboro group! We The People have the power to stop the hatred! We can first let our representatives in Congress know how strongly we feel about these situations, and when laws fail us, we find other ways, though always within the law and in peace, without violence. For me, though the headline initially made me see red, I am encouraged to see that there are a lot more good people out there than bad. I never doubted this, but sometimes we need to be reminded.